One Step Ahead – Tales From The SCG Open Series

Revisit this Gerry Thompson article from April 7, now on Select! Happy July 4th!

Originally published on 4/7/2011.

I don’t think I need to tell you guys (and gals) that the best reason to attend any Magic tournament is the people and the stories.
Unfortunately, the coverage and subsequent tournament reports can only give the reader so much information on what degenerate events happen onsite.

I’m here to help a bit in that regard.

Story Time #1: Acquiring a Passport in Seven Days or Less

I might as well start at the beginning. It seems fitting, doesn’t it? Last year, I was doing my thing, breaking formats and putting myself and my
friends into Top 8s all over the country. Thanks to Gabe Walls, a caricature of a human, I was feeling similarly to him — I wanted to play in Pro
Tours against the best in the world. My focus on Magic shifted slightly, from wanting to play in easy tournaments against unprepared opponents to
actually needing a challenge.

After a few events, it looked like I could sit on my rating for Worlds in Nagoya, but that meant skipping two Grand Prix in Toronto and Nashville.
Historically, I’ve had basically a Limited Grand Prix Top 8 in every format where I wasn’t conceding to two people per tournament, so
skipping these wasn’t appealing. However, I had to do it in order to maintain my qualification.

A week before GP Toronto, I was heading to a PTQ in Chicago to railbird and hang out with friends, and GWalls called me up. No matter what the
circumstances, I know that when I see Gabe calling me, I’m in for something. A ridiculous story, a promise of adventure, something. The man does
not disappoint.

Gabe: Here’s the thing; I can go to some 5k in Nashville, or I can go to Chicago, play in the PTQ, and then take you home with me. From there,
we’ll road trip to Toronto, and you can crush the GP.

Me: Yeah… Well, I’m sitting on my rating, kind of broke, don’t have a passport, etc., etc.

Gabe: Stop making excuses. I’ll pay for gas and hotel. You’ll pick up the two Pro Points you need to Q for Worlds at either GP. What would
you tell me if I told you I was sitting on my rating?

Me: *sigh* Yeah, I’d tell you to stop being a pussy and play in the GPs.

Gabe: Pack a jacket. I hear it’s cold in Canada.


In Toronto, I opened an absurd deck but failed to even make Day Two. The pressure was on. You may have noticed that I went to Canada and back without a
passport, but that’s a story for another time.

I wasn’t expecting to go to Worlds after that, but I was fine with that as well. I’m an old man, and the tolls of traveling are not
something I’m interested in right now. Again, I was making excuses, but it was all I could do to live with my decision to play in Toronto.

Before Nashville, I said that I’d only attend Worlds if I made Top 8. I had already kind of written it off, but once I drew into Top 8, I was making
plans to borrow money and acquire the passport I would surely need to enter Japan.

I was back in Indianapolis with Gabe, doing research on how to get a passport in the quickest way possible. Thanks to help from some Facebook friends,
I narrowed my options and set my sights on Chicago. Gabe and I made the three-hour trek to a little apartment building in downtown where a nice Asian
couple ran a business expediting passports.

Needless to say, it wasn’t cheap. Awkwardly, Gabe’s card was declined, and I was forced to call Tom Martell, who was already paying for my
Japan ticket, and ask for another handout. I gave them the address of a friend I was going to be staying with in Roanoke before the Invitational, and
they assured me it would be there on Thursday.

Friday came, and we were supposed to be heading to Richmond for the Invitational, although I still didn’t have the passport in my hands. I was
getting a little worried but decided to go grab some lunch and hope it was there when we got back to the house. If not, there was nothing I could do,
and I’d just figure out how I could cancel my flight while losing the least amount of money possible.

Matt, my host for the week, asked me how much I’d pay to have my passport in hand when we left Roanoke. I thought about it and offered up $100 to his
$20 as a hedge. I’d gladly pay a hundo for that peace of mind, but if it wasn’t there, which I expected it wouldn’t be, then I’d have
some free money.

We got back to the house, and it was nowhere to be seen. Matt sadly, both for me and him, shipped a twenty, and we hit the road. It wasn’t until
the next day I found out how good I was running. My passport arrived an hour after we left, and I had already gotten paid!

Still, there was a minor issue of getting the passport from Roanoke to Richmond, but that was quickly taken care of by the wonder StarCityGames.com
event staff. By Sunday, I had my passport in hand and was even battling it out in Top 8 of the Invitational.

Gabe told me it was all going to be all right, and for some reason, I doubted him. I boarded that plane to Japan with a smile on my face.

Story Time #2: The New Crew

At the SCG Open in Kansas City, I could only imagine Conley’s surprise when he sat down to play close to a, if not identical, 75-card mirror in
Top 4 vs. Chris VanMeter. Pro Tour Top 8er Tom Ma caught quite the verbal lashing for shipping Conley’s tech.

I hadn’t heard of Chris before then, but he’s quickly making a name for himself on the circuit, especially because of his recent win at the
SCG LA Draft Open. But with every tournament victory, there comes a story…

In round of three of the Draft Open, Gabe Walls was playing against Chris, while right next to him, Paul Rietzl was playing against Greg Hatch. They
both knew that if the other six tables of undefeateds finished their matches, they could draw in.

While nothing shady happened, Gabe knew when five of the matches finished with a victor. One of the other matches, realizing that if they drew,
everyone else would have to play, chose to draw. Gabe quickly offered the draw as well, leaving Paul to fend for himself.

Gabe and Chris met again in the finals, where a split could be arranged. Chris needed the Open Points to level up, so Gabe proposed a split that would
give him what he thought was maximum value: $475 for him, $225 for Chris and the ten points. Everyone else thought it was a ridiculous offer, including
Gabe, but he thought Chris might take it.

When Chris snap accepted, shook Gabe’s hand, thanking him for the points, Gabe started kicking himself. It was clear he could’ve gotten more

Story Time #3: The New Crew Part Two

By now, you all know Drew Levin. He’s the kid on the wrong end of the Wescoe Check, the Legacy expert on the Select side of StarCityGames.com,
and one who keeps posting strong finishes on the Open Series.

You’ve probably all heard this story, but it bears repeating. Round one of his first Open ever, he was piloting Valakut against U/B Control and
was in the driver’s seat after a turn 4 Thrun. Turn 5, he threw out a Green Sun’s Zenith for four and was surprised when his opponent let
it resolve.

Drew slammed another Thrun on the table, while his opponent could only sit there with horror and amusement.

“They… they’re dead…”

Drew sheepishly binned them both and went on to lose the game and match.

To his credit, he rallied back and finished in the finals, but not before word of the story started spreading. As a young up-and-comer, he wanted to
keep embarrassing stories to a minimum, but that would never stop loudmouth Christian Valenti. Once he got wind of what happened, the entire room knew.

Story Time #4: The New Crew Part Three

Christian Valenti cut his teeth on the Kentucky Open 5k/Winter King circuit back before SCG was doing it, so he’s no stranger to success. Through
the SCG Opens, he’s come to be known as a happy-go-lucky, loud kid who always plays Goblin Charbelcher in Legacy and always makes Top 8.

While this has happened once or twice since then, Christian was one of the first people I’ve heard of having the turn 0 kill.

His opponent won the die roll, chose to go first, played Ancient Tomb, Lotus Petal, and Show and Tell, putting down Emrakul. Christian put in a Goblin
Charbelcher, removed three Spirit Guides, and killed his opponent before he even took a turn!

Story Time #5: Choosing Your Own Destiny

In the week before Memphis, I stayed in Louisville for the week with such luminaries as Christian Valenti, Bobby Graves, Chris Andersen, and Phillip
Green. Phil and I desperately needed haircuts. With Christian in tow, we went to the nearest Super Cuts-type place, and as we pulled up, Phil muttered,
“I feel like this is going to be an interesting story…”

Well, sir, I aim to please.

We strolled in, and Phil shotgunned the semi-attractive looking stylist, but she was having none of it. She led me to her chair, and I described what I
needed done, while Phil solemnly sat down in the chair of the fat, old lady. She started going to town on Phil’s enormous, curly fro, while my
stylist started chatting me up.

I explained to her that we were “card players,” although was sure to be ambiguous enough that I wouldn’t be lying and that she
wouldn’t think anything of it. Normally, I just sell the Magic angle, but this time, I wanted to sell Christian as being a big-tyming poker

She seemed skeptical after making quick glances to Christian in the lobby, doing what could only be described as “durdling.”

Once I realized selling Christian as a genius millionaire had somehow gone bust, I quickly tried to avoid the topic. We stopped talking about who made
more money so far that year, and she started inviting Phil and I to her local hangouts.

We were nearly finished when Phil asked his stylist if she could trim his lumberjack beard, and she hesitantly agreed. With that ordeal completed, he
broached the subject of her potentially cleaning up his eyebrows as well. She suggested that he could get them waxed, but it wouldn’t be free.

I pounced.

Me: I’ll pay for it, Phil.

Phil: Wait, what? Why?

My stylist: You just want to see your friend in pain, don’t you?

Me: … Obviously.

To his credit, he took it like a man. Sadly, for my and Christian’s amusement, Phil didn’t scream in agony or any of that fun stuff we
imagined would happen. Instead, we left with the same feeling you get whenever you introduce something like the credit card game to an unsuspecting
waitress. You know for a fact that they’ll be telling that story for a while.

However, for the rest of the weekend, Phil would occasionally rub his brow, commenting on how his eyebrows “felt weird.”

Sometimes a $35 haircut is worth it.

Story Time #6: Humiliation Bets

I flew to LA to stay with Gabe, who had just rented a place for two weeks with Brad Nelson and Luis Scott-Vargas. For whatever reason, I thought it
would be a calm couple of weeks, but I was certainly wrong.

We started by doing 3v3 drafts for hundreds. I was a little out of my element, what with trying to open my Scars of Mirrodin booster first and all.
Thankfully, I got to coast through the first draft with a spicy infect deck.

The second draft was far more interesting. It’s hard to describe the type of rivalry Brad and Conley have, but it’s a joy to behold.
Conley, especially, can’t stand losing to Brad, so whenever possible, Gabe and Luis try to put them on opposite teams for their own enjoyment. If
a draft ever came down a tie, you knew who would be playing the breaker.

Gabe decided to up the stakes, putting Conley and Brad in a room together as captains to decide teams however they wanted. They re-raised, coming out
with teams formed, and humiliation bets for the losing team.

LSV and Gabe were clearly intrigued. The bets were as follows:

LSV: Has to do the Worm on camera.

Brad: Has to be everyone’s servant for the remainder of the day.

Gabe: If he made any bets at 1:1, he would have to offer 2:1 instead.

Me: I would have to give my SCG Open Dallas trophy away.

Conley: Had to consume an entire bottle of ketchup.

Kenny Hsiung: I can’t remember, but I assume it was something completely degenerate. If not, it was probably playing heads-up Massage Device
against me. Allow me to explain.

While in Las Vegas, an inebriated Brad Nelson purchased a hundred-dollar portable massage device that included some electrodes attached to some
adhesives that looked a lot like some sort of torture device. Sure enough, when turned up high enough, it was no longer a pleasant massage but some
sort of electroshock pain inducer.

They came up with a game where you attach electrodes to each person’s wrists and have them lock hands while another person steadily increases the
power. The first one to let go loses. As it turns out, my pain threshold is rather high, and I was taking all comers.

Thanks to my 0-3, we lost convincingly, although Gabe quickly saw that my “humiliation” bet was not up to par. I wouldn’t
particularly care if I had to give my trophy away, as it was a hindrance to travel with.

Instead, Gabe would gain the ability to log into my Facebook and post whatever he wanted. A scary notion, to say the least… For those of you who
thought it was strange that I was posting about “loving you all” on Facebook, that’s why. Those who know me should have known
something was up.

Anytime you’re looking to up the draft stakes, I recommend humiliation bets, if for no other reason to see what people can come up with. If money
is a scarce resource, perhaps you should be wagering in dignity. Similarly, I recommend slap bets.

The exciting conclusion:

Story Time #7: Who Is the Biggest Scumbag?

After the SCG Open in Edison, a bunch of us went searching for dinner. We wound up at Fuddruckers, along with Adam Prosak and his crew. While waiting
for my food, I grabbed a fry from Tommy Ashton with full intent to repay when I got my food. A few moments later, I waved a fry in his face, which
confused him initially, but then he nodded in acceptance of what was happening and took the fry.

AJ made some comment about me repaying my debt, to which I replied, “Of course I did. I’m not a scumbag.” Some disagreed with that
assessment. I decided to take an impartial poll from Prosak’s table as to who was the biggest scumbag at my table, which consistent of Megan
Holland, Ben Hayes, Matt Lackey (who is most likely an unknown quantity to them but doesn’t look scumbaggish in the least), Chris Andersen, AJ
Sacher, and myself.

I expected it to be close between the last three, but surely I thought Chris or AJ would win out over me. Now, I’ve certainly been a bag to a few
people over the years, and back then, I definitely had that reputation. I just wasn’t scared to speak my mind, and apparently people don’t
fancy that quality too much.

Imagine my surprise when Adam, Tommy, John Moore, and a couple others I consider my friends selected me hands down. If anything, Chris had the current
scummiest attitude, at least toward his opponents. None of us have done anything absurd like steal decks or not pay people, but I felt like I had
cleaned up my act in the last couple years.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer.

Story Time #8: Shots Fired

For those of you who woke up one day, checked Facebook, and read about Todd Anderson OHKO-ing me, this is the story for you.

After Memphis, I rode to Alabama to stay with Drew Levin, Adam Cai, and Alex Bertoncini for a week before Dallas. Let me tell you, this game has taken
me to some strange places.

On Thursday, we were hanging out at Crimson Castle Games and decided to grab a couple drinks at a local establishment. Alex was looking to scam on some
unsuspecting southern girls, but since it was spring break, he was having a tough time.

After a few drinks, Todd Anderson and Blair Simpson were recounting stories from their past like an old married couple.

“Oh, OH! I want to tell this one!”

“Okay honey, go ahead.”

“No, go ahead, sweetie; you tell it better.”

Naturally, Alex was talking some trash and suffered a surprise gut punch at the hands of Todd Anderson. After he finished reeling on the floor, Alex
got up and started wrestling Todd. Todd put Alex in a headlock, but apparently if you’re from New York, you don’t mind fighting a little
dirty. Alex took Todd’s hand and split his thumb and pointer finger like a chicken bone until Todd cried uncle.

An underage Drew Levin was found out and had to be shuttled home by Adam Cai, but a group of us left the bar and headed to a Waffle House nearby. Alex
and I rode with Todd and Blair, but I can’t say that we were kind to Todd on the way there. By the time we got out at the Waffle House, Todd was

Now, it’s safe to say this all happened in a matter of seconds, but the complex thoughts racing through my mind were as such:

1) If this continues, Alex and Todd are going to fight. Someone, most likely Todd, but potentially Alex, is going to get seriously hurt.

2) We’re guests of basically everyone there, especially Adam Cai. It would be terrible of us, but especially me, since I feel like I can control
the situation, to let the situation escalate further.

3) I need to quash this before it gets out of hand.

Knowing full well that Todd Anderson doesn’t like me very much (and he has good reason to), I stood between him and Alex and told him that if he
wanted to hit anyone (as he was spouting off), he should just hit me. It took a little more prodding, but soon enough, I was on the ground reeling,
confused as to what had just happened.

Now, with Alex and Todd both laughing, I felt the situation was averted and went inside to spit the blood out of my mouth and clean up. When I came
out, everyone was in good spirits, laughing about the stuff they were posting on Facebook. Granted, the whole “I knocked GerryT on his ass for
talking $#!+” wasn’t exactly accurate, but I wasn’t about to dispute semantics and create another potential situation.

Overall, I was satisfied with the outcome and still am. I’m sure there was a better way to resolve things, but in the split second I had to
decide, that was what came to mind.

Todd offered to pay for my $5 meal, which I suppose was nice of him, but that seemed unnecessary. It was also highly unimportant considering what
happened when we were in mid-conversation.

Two short, young black men, both wearing masks, strutted in, brandishing firearms. I immediately pulled out my wallet and put it on the table, all the
while casually sipping my soda. One of our companions, who was slightly intoxicated, asked, “Are ya’ll serious right now?”

One of them answered with “%^$* yes we’re serious!” and fired a round into the ceiling. From that point, no one really said anything.
They collected under a hundred dollars from the register. A waitress, unaware of what was happening, walked in from the back room, holding a twenty,
and had it snatched out of her hands.

They escaped shortly, not even bothering to collect our wallets.

When the cops came in, we gave the best descriptions we could. One had a Spiderman mask while the other was wearing a normal black ski mask. Overall, I
was quite disappointed in myself. I didn’t remember any distinguishing details, and while it’s typically the norm for people to not be
thinking about that type of stuff while they’re being robbed at gun point, I’ve seen enough Law and Order to think that would I ever be in
the same situation, I’d focus on what was important.

At the very least, I should have followed them outside to see which direction they ran or what kind of vehicle they were driving, although in this
case, they were on foot. I know that in the future, I’ll try to be more helpful in that regard.

Our meal wasn’t comped, and paying in cash had suddenly become difficult, but everyone got out all right. Todd and Blair booked long before the
cops arrived.

As I said before, this game has taken me to some strange places.